TikTok has been fined 345 million euros (around £298,900 million) for breaching privacy laws regarding the processing of children’s personal data in the European Union, the Irish Data Protection Agency (DPC) announced on 15th September. This comes only a few months after the Chinese short-form video app was fined £12.7m for illegally processing children’s data in the UK.
TikTok, which has become popular substantially among teens worldwide in recent years, has violated a number of EU privacy regulations between 31st July 2020, and 31st December 2020, according to the DPC. A TikTok spokesman stated that the company disagreed with the verdict, notably the severity of the fines and that most of the concerns are no longer valid due to steps implemented before the DPC’s investigation began in September 2021.
Why Was TikTok Fined?
The DPC, the Irish privacy watchdog, stated that the Chinese-owned video app had violated various General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) requirements. GDPR is an EU legislation that controls how we can use, handle, and secure our personal data.
It found TikTok had violated GDPR for the following reasons:
- Defaulting child users’ accounts to “public” (instead of private).
- Failing to provide transparent information to child users.
- Allowing adults (not related to children) to access a child’s account on the “family pairing” setting to enable direct messaging for over-16s.
- Failing to adequately consider the risks posed to under-13s on the platform who were placed on a “public” setting.
The major concerns were that children aged 13 to 17 were guided through the sign-up process in such a manner that their accounts were set to public by default, meaning anybody could read or comment on their posts too. It also discovered that the “family pairing” feature did not check if the paired user was a parent/legal guardian which meant that anyone could contact a child.
What Are the Implications for TikTok and Its Users?
Family pairing reportedly had stricter parental controls from TikTok in November 2020, and the default option for all logged-in users under the age of 16 was changed to “private” in January 2021. The company also announced that starting later this month, new 16 and 17-year-old users who sign up for the app would automatically be assigned a private account. In addition, TikTok will be further updating its privacy guidelines to make the distinctions between public and private accounts clearer.
Children need to be able to engage in the online world in 2023 without their parents/guardians fearing exploitation or manipulation. Platforms must, therefore, disclose how their data is handled and, more importantly, handle it safely. The DPC has given TikTok three months to bring all of its processing into compliance.